IN: Reviews

Seasonal Death and Love


Thea Lobo (file photo)
Thea Lobo (file photo)

On Monday Lifetime Learning of Newton Community Education featured soprano Theo Lobo and pianist Sylvia Berry at the Wilson Chapel of Andover Newton Theological Seminary on Monday. The duo opened with Schumann’s song cycle Frauenliebe und -leben, which chronicles a woman’s falling in love, marrying and experiencing the death of her beloved. Schumann’s choice of poetry undoubtedly reflected his love for Clara Wieck, whom he married in 1840, the year he composed these songs. Lobo understood the nuances. Her excited voice described the joy of the marriage proposal. A playful tone described a mother nursing her child, while she communicated her agony at her beloved’s death with piercing sound. Sylvia Berry supported Lobo throughout with sensitivity. It is hard not to read the poetry and think of the composer’s prescient choice of text. He died in 1856, leaving his wife, a renowned concert pianist, to raise seven children.

The Schumann was followed by four Schubert songs. “Der Tod und das Mädchen” (Death and the Maiden) and “Die Mutter Erde” (Mother  Earth) are about death. In the former, the piano introduction expresses finality. As the vocal part enters, it communicates agitation and distress, essentially begging death for a reprieve. But no reprieve is granted and the last section, by which point we have transitioned from minor to major, communicates resignation and peace. “Die Mutter Erde” is less programmatic, a through-composed song with a mellow, shrouded atmosphere. The minor chords of the piano introduction give way to a melody built on tonic, dominant and subdominant tones, creating a hymn or a lament. The piece ends in major. Both Tod and Erde conclude with death as comforter.

Sylvia Berry (file photo)

An Emma” (To Emma) and “Heidenröslein” (Heatherrose) are about love; the latter, the story of rejected love, is the lighter and more youthful. In “An Emma”, the singer questions whether love can survive the beloved’s death. Like “Die Mutter Erde”, it ends on an optimistic note. The performers displayed the emotional range Schubert sought, Lobo agitated in “Tod und das Mädchen” yet resigned from struggle when the music calls for it. Berry supported her partner, although the substantive piano part  left its own mark.

Between the two sets Berry played a songful solo, Schubert’s Impromptu in A-flat Major. The middle section features continuous triplets, with the low note in each triplet outlining the main theme. Her ability to illuminate the melody wherever and however it presented itself unified the composition.

The recital ended with  “Des Sennen Abschied” (The Herdsman’s Farewell) of Schumann, heralding the end of summer. Here we heard the piano evoking the sounds of birds and possibly cowbells, while our vocalist lamented “you meadows farewell, you sunny pasturelands.” The appreciative audience also bid farewell, and headed out into a sunny but cold spring morning.

Retired medical biology researcher Dinah Bodkin is a serious amateur pianist and mother of Groupmuse founder Sam Bodkin.

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